US X-37B Likely Spying on China’s Space Station

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  1. z9-ec
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    z9-ec FULL MEMBER

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    X-37B Likely Spying on China’s Space Station

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    We may finally have a clue what the U.S. Air Force’s secret space plane, the X-37B, is up to on its record breaking mission in the heavens. Amatuer satellite trackers have noticed that the robo-shuttle’s orbital path is nearly identical to China’s brand new space station, Tiangong-1, which was launched in September.

    Remember, the X-37B can stay aloft for nearly a year and is capable of changing its orbits around the Earth. These features, combined with the secrecy surrounding its missions have prompted many people to speculate that it is a spy craft capable of launching small spy satellites and snooping on other nation’s satellites up close.

    “Space-to-space surveillance is a whole new ball game made possible by a finessed group of sensors and sensor suites, which we think the X-37B may be using to maintain a close watch on China’s nascent space station,” Spaceflight editor Dr. David Baker tells the BBC.

    Remember, OTV-2, the second of two X-37Bs, launched last March and recently surpassed its official endurance of 270 days in space. It’s very plausible that Air Force officials decided to keep the bird aloft past its max endurance in order to get a better look at the Chinese space station. Tiangong-1 will receive its first human occupants later this year and is intended to serve as a prototype for several larger Chinese space stations.

    From the BBC:
    The current mission was launched on an Atlas rocket and put into a low orbit, a little over 300km up, with an inclination of 42.79 degrees with respect to the equator — an unusual profile for a US military mission which would normally go into an orbit that circles the poles.

    The X-37B’s flight has since been followed from the ground by a dedicated group of optical tracking specialists in the US and Europe, intrigued by what the vehicle may be doing.

    These individuals have watched how closely its orbit matches that of Tiangong.

    The spacelab, which China expects to man with astronauts in 2012, was launched in September with an inclination of 42.78 degrees, and to a very similar altitude as the OTV.

    “The parallels with X-37B are clear,” Dr Baker says in Spaceflight, the long established magazine of the British Interplanetary Society.

    “With a period differential of about 19 seconds, the two vehicles will migrate toward or against each other, converging or diverging, roughly every 170 orbits.”
  2. aazidane
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    aazidane SENIOR MEMBER

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    Its not spying if its in space!
  3. teddy
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    teddy FULL MEMBER

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    Not very impressive. china had already answer by this....
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  4. houshanghai
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    houshanghai FULL MEMBER

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    Expert: Secret X-37B plane isn't spying on China

    A former orbital analyst said previous reports of U. S. military's X-37B space plane spying on a prototype space module are extremely unlikely to be true.

    According to Brian Weeden, a technical adviser with the Secure World Foundation and a former orbital analyst with the U. S. Air Force, the robotic X-37B space place could not possibly be surveilling China's Tiangcong 1 space laboratory as they have different orbits.
    "I would go as far as to say, 'no chance,'" said Weeden. "It's not practical."

    The experimental X-37B was launched for the first time by the U.S. Air Force on a classified mission in March 2011. The spacecraft is known as the Orbital Test Vehicle 2, or OTV-2. Meanwhile, China launched its unmanned Tiangong 1 space lab in September and is using the vessel to carry out orbital docking tests.

    Observers have speculated that that the X-37B and Tiangong 1 have broadly similar orbits since both are currently about 180 miles (300 kilometers) above the Earth, with an inclination of roughly 43 degrees with respect to the equator.
    However, Weeden said the orbits of the X-37B and Tiangong 1 differ by about 100 degrees in a parameter, called right ascension. This describes where a craft crosses the equator, he explained, such that the two satellites actually take disparate paths around the globe, with their orbits intersecting just twice per circuit.

    Theoretically, the X-37B and Tiangong 1 could approach each other a maximum of two times per orbit, that is, is if timing works out perfectly, but with the very high speeds, it is not exact the best condition for a spy mission, Weeden said.

    The X-37B, which looks like a smaller version of NASA's recently retired space shuttle, is about 29 feet long and 15 feet wide, with a payload bay about the size of a pickup truck bed. The U. S. Air Force has repeatedly said that the space plane's primary mission is to test out new technologies.

    The space plane's orbit can also explain its activities, Weeden said. The craft, which is flying repeatedly over the stretch from 43 degrees north latitude to 43 degrees south, could be using new technology to observe the Middle East and Afghanistan, he said.

    Weeden also speculated that with the current mission aloft for more than 10 months, the military may be putting the vehicle through something of an endurance test.

    But with regards to observations that it is conducting surveillance on China, Weeden said the the government has better information-gathering tools at its disposal than the X-37B for the job.

    "The U.S. has this whole network of ground-based telescopes and radars, several of which can do imaging - either radar or optical imaging of space objects - that are better suited for this," he said.




    Expert: Secret X-37B plane not spying on China - Technology & science - Space - Space.com - msnbc.com
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  5. anon45
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    anon45 SENIOR MEMBER

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    This is balderdash and has been proven false. The 'expert' should be rightly embarrassed